Real Value: Our Review of ‘Gift’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 17, 2019
Real Value: Our Review of ‘Gift’

Robin McKenna’s new documentary Gift is about four individuals who have different experiences when it comes to giving their gifts. These individuals are mostly of the artistic kind, the first being an American social worker, Michelle “Smallfry” Lessans. With the help of others, she makes honey and brews mead to give it away. Gift makes little mention of the fact that she is a woman venturing in a mostly male field. Anyway, she serves as a narrator, verbally espousing the movie’s values. Gift economies, as she said, shocks some people. It doesn’t make sense for people to spend time and money on something that won’t last long.

But what the film does well is watching Smallfry and her collaborators at work. We can say the same observational approach to the doc’s other subjects. The second subject is Lee Mingwei, who works in Australia. Lee’s installations and collaborative performance work is also about giving. The through line here is about collaboration. Lee recruits singers to giving, in a literal sense, a song to museum patrons. There’s also Kwakwaka’wakw’s young chief Marcus Alfred. He speaks about his gratefulness in practicing as a sculptor. He talks about not knowing what he would do without his talent.

As an artist and chief, Alfred organizes his first pot-latch, restarting a tradition that his people practiced since time immemorial. The last subject’s concerns have an equal sense of urgency. Giorgio de Finis and his group of activists using walls of abandoned buildings in Rome as canvases for their art. The name Metropoliz applies both to the group and the place where their art belongs. They make these buildings more aesthetically pleasing for the Roma and refugee communities living in those buildings. The art here has a different purpose. Adding artistic value to these walls help keep those communities in those buildings.

The editing between the four subjects can sometimes be too swift. Some of the projects are also more palatable than others. De Finis and his collaborators constantly think of the residents who experience their art daily. Some of these pieces are recall the story of how some refugees got to Italy. On the other hand, there’s Smallfry’s piece which ends up in Burning Man. The doc isn’t the best at justifying that setting and removing the stigma that comes with its hipster-y reputation. Context aside, the doc mostly succeeds in showing its value of gift giving.

  • Release Date: 5/17/2019
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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